Virtual Consultations in Veterinary Medicine

Carly M. Moody, MS, PhD, University of California, Davis

ArticleLast Updated February 20243 min read
Print/View PDF
image source

In the Literature

Sigesmund D, Coe JB, Khosa D, Moore IC. Veterinarians are reluctant to recommend virtual consultations to a fellow veterinarian. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2023;261(12):1820-1828. doi:10.2460/javma.23.02.0090

The Research …

Incorporation of virtual care may help overcome hurdles (eg, access to care, clinician shortages, effective use of clinic resources) in companion animal medicine. Although pet owners and clinicians recognize the benefits of virtual care,1-3 use is not widespread, and clinicians may be hesitant to offer this type of consultation.4,5

In this study, a cross-sectional questionnaire surveyed companion animal clinicians in the United States, Canada, and Europe to explore attitudes toward virtual care and identify factors associated with implementing virtual consultations. Of the 135 respondents, most practiced in Canada (72.4%), were female (80.2%), and worked in privately owned practice (59.8%). Respondent practices were located in suburban (38.6%), urban (34.6%), and rural (26.8%) areas.

Participants indicated increased use of telephone calls, texting/messaging, and video calls during versus before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and were less confident making diagnoses during virtual versus in-person consultations. Participants were most willing to use virtual consultations for behavior (77.8%), weight (74.8%), and cognition (65.7%) topics. Communication challenges associated with virtual care included building a connection with new clients and expressing empathy. Comfort with video conferencing and confidence performing virtual examinations were positively associated with willingness to recommend virtual consultations to colleagues.

… The Takeaways

Key pearls to put into practice:

  • Virtual care should complement, not replace, in-person consultations, as a comprehensive physical examination cannot be performed virtually, directly impacting the diagnostic process. Consultations not heavily reliant on physical examination (eg, weight management, behavior management) may be effective virtual consultations.

  • Virtual consultations can be useful for both clinical and nonclinical aspects of veterinary care. For example, using technology to remotely gather information as part of teletriage may help with prioritization of consultations and effective use of clinic resources. Virtual consultations may also help support and educate owners, including those who care for pets that require considerable at-home management (eg, pets with chronic disease). These consultations do not include medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment and may therefore be performed by knowledgeable veterinary staff.

  • Incorporating virtual care may appear beneficial to some employees because it allows remote work and flexible communication with clients outside of traditional hours, which can also benefit clients and the practice.

  • Although human medicine has evidence-based guidelines for clinical use of virtual care, current veterinary guidelines are based on expert advice, anecdotes, and practicality (see Suggested Reading). Science-based guidelines are needed to inform best practices for remote evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.